Report: COVID-19 Escaped From China Lab | Opinion

A report released August 1 both undermines the credibility of China's pronouncements on the origins of COVID-19 and forces the Biden administration to address issues that it has attempted, with success up to now, to evade.

The 84-page report, released by the GOP staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also sets the stage for the removal of Dr. Anthony Fauci as America's top infectious-disease official.

"The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology" states that "the preponderance of evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 was accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory sometime prior to September 12, 2019."

The GOP report—technically an addendum to a report issued September 21, 2020—notes that "in the middle of the night on September 12, 2019 and without explanation," the Wuhan Institute of Virology removed its virus and sample database from its website. That same day, the institute issued a "Security Service Procurement Project." Four days later, it announced a contract to renovate the air conditioning in its newly constructed laboratory facilities. The report also highlights other renovation projects, suggesting improvements followed an incident at the lab.

Moreover, the GOP report includes facts changing the timeline of the disease. For instance, we learn that Major General Chen Wei, often described as "China's top biowarfare expert," was assigned to the BSL-4 lab at the institute sometime in "late 2019"—not in January of the following year, as was reported by outlets such as Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

The GOP's addendum points to increased activity at Wuhan hospitals in the second half of 2019, suggesting an outbreak at that time. This is in line with a Harvard Medical School study, released a year ago, that describes crowded parking lots at Wuhan medical facilities as far back as August of that year—one suggestion that an infectious disease was circulating in the city at that time.

Moreover, the GOP report states that some participants at the Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019 exhibited COVID-like symptoms both during and after the event.

In short, the new report's major contribution is to provide additional evidence to show the outbreak occurred earlier than Beijing maintains. To show the disease could not have started in Wuhan, the Chinese regime has publicized research findings that SARS-CoV-2 was found circulating in Italy in the fall of 2019.

Why is the new timeline so important? In addition to bolstering the case that Wuhan is the origin of the disease, an early outbreak makes Beijing's actions appear even less responsible. The Chinese central government first publicly announced that COVID-19 was human-to-human transmissible on January 20, 2020. Up to now, it has been evident that Beijing knew or should have known the disease was contagious no later than the second week of the preceding December, when doctors in Wuhan were witnessing transmission of the disease from one patient to the next.

Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci responds to accusations by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as he testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, July 20, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images

The GOP report, however, makes the case that Beijing knew of such contagiousness for five months, instead of five weeks, before its first public announcement to that effect. This revelation substantially strengthens the argument that Chinese authorities could have prevented the spread of COVID beyond their borders and, consequently, are responsible for the 4,247,000 deaths outside China. Calls for China to pay compensation will now only grow louder.

Beijing quickly condemned the GOP House addendum. "The relevant report, totally based on the concocted lies and distorted facts without providing any evidence, is not credible or scientific," the foreign ministry stated on Tuesday.

China's authorities can label the GOP House report "smears and slanders," but that charge only reignites a debate on the facts—something Beijing has been studiously trying to avoid.

The GOP report also puts President Joe Biden on the spot. He has never exhibited interest in COVID-19's origins, even spending two hours on the phone with Chinese ruler Xi Jinping in February and not once raising the topic.

It's apparent that on May 26, Biden ordered the American intelligence community (IC) to report back in 90 days on the topic only because of the uproar resulting from CNN reporting that the Antony Blinken-led State Department spiked an investigation previously launched by former Secretary Mike Pompeo.

Leaks indicate the IC will issue an inconclusive assessment—perhaps one designed to end the inquiry into the virus' origins. The GOP effort, however, forces the Biden administration to disclose facts and address issues of Chinese culpability. "The Biden administration's 90-day intelligence review will not be sufficient," writes The Washington Post's Josh Rogin. "Calls for a 9/11-style commission are increasing."

The GOP report targets another guilty-looking figure. "Researchers at the WIV, in conjunction with U.S. scientists and funded by both the [Chinese] government and the U.S. government, were conducting gain-of-function research on coronaviruses at the WIV, at times under BSL-2 conditions," the report declares, referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Dr. Fauci's categorical denials that his National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan, issued in response to sharp questioning by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in May and July hearings, now appear even more dubious.

Fauci's funding of research in Wuhan is a matter of critical importance. "The Wuhan Institute of Virology is only one lab in an entire network of military and civilian labs throughout China and around the world," Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan tells Newsweek. Yan points to China's infiltration of America's research and academic communities, "which continue to supply the Communist Party with advanced technology, capital and intellectual property." And due to China's doctrine of civil-military fusion, this American aid is pipelined directly to the Chinese military.

As Yan, who fled Hong Kong in April of last year to report on China's dangerous COVID experimentation, told this publication, "mapping and uprooting" of these Chinese support networks "should be a primary objective" of America's overall response to China.

The House GOP report, by focusing on the links connecting the Chinese military to American funding of Wuhan, begins to map and expose those dangerous networks.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter: @GordonGChang.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

UPDATE (August 20, 2021): A previous reference to the monetary size of the air conditioning renovation at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been deleted. The previous indicated size was the result of a mistranslation made by the Minority staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.